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Pa. delegates flocking to Florida GOP convention

Peter Jackson

Victory, the economy and socializing _ not necessarily in that order _ are foremost on the minds of Pennsylvania's delegates to the Republican National Convention as they travel to Tampa, Fla., for Monday's opening festivities.

Random telephone interviews by The Associated Press with more than a dozen of the 72 delegates confirmed abundant enthusiasm over the Romney-Ryan ticket's prospects in the Nov. 6 presidential election _ and no shortage of criticism for President Barack Obama's Democratic leadership.

Yet despite the optimism, some delegates say former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney needs to do a better job explaining his less-government-is-better-government agenda and fighting the perception that he is out of touch with middle-class voters if he expects to win a swing state like Pennsylvania.

Democrats have carried the state in the last five presidential elections and independent polls in recent weeks have favored Obama in the state, but many Republicans believe disenchantment over high national unemployment, the federal debt and other issues will keep the wind at their backs in 2012.

Delegates are looking for Romney to enunciate a compelling case for his job creation and economic recovery agenda in his nomination acceptance speech next week.

State GOP chairman Rob Gleason calls it "the most important speech (Romney) will make in his life."

"What's he's got to do is lay out his blueprint for America," Gleason said.

Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg consultant who was the state chairman of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's unsuccessful primary campaign, said the speech offers "a real opportunity for Mitt Romney to outline in clear terms his vision, but more important his plan to get the economy back on track and America back to work."

The speech will be "a defining moment for the (Romney) campaign and for him personally," said Gerow, who's attending his 10th convention.

Several delegates said they hope Romney uses the speech to flesh out his proposals.

Thomas G. Brown, a writer in State College who is attending his first convention, said he gives Romney a grade of C-minus on specificity so far.

He "really needs to outline what he's going to do in specific details to get the economy back up and running again," Brown said.

John Gordner, a state senator from Columbia County, called the economy "the number one, number two and number three issue" in the campaign.

"What we need to hear is a clear and concise vision of how President Romney will go about creating jobs and getting this federal trillion-dollar deficit under control," he said.

Mark Harris, a trucking company owner and farmer from Middleburg in Snyder County, said he is looking for consistency.

"I want to hear that he's going to stay on the same path," Harris said. "He's hitting all the conservative bells, and I believe that he can deliver on that. He has the potential to be a great president if he keeps going in that direction."

Some delegates said Romney, the millionaire son of a former Michigan governor, needs to combat the perception that he cannot relate to ordinary Americans.

"He has to convey his story," said delegate Christopher Vogler, a Philadelphia Parking Authority manager. "There is a percentage of the electorate (who) ... would be willing to vote for him" if they felt more at ease with him.

Gordner said it is "incredibly important that (Romney) talks about his understanding and his appreciation for middle-class America."

Gordner added, "He really needs to humanize himself."

"If he speaks from his heart, being a true gentleman as he is, then I think he can touch people, he can wake them up and say, `I am the guy you need to elect. ... I can turn this country around,'" said Lisa Wingert of York.

Mary Beth Dougherty, a state Senate staffer from Girardville in Schuylkill County, said she is more eager to hear the speech by Romney's choice as running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Rep. Paul Ryan, who she said brought "an influx of excitement to the campaign."

"I've not had an opportunity to hear him speak from start to finish," she said.

Delegates said they did not expect fallout from Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment to dampen the convention.

"The real clouds are coming from Isaac," said Thomas Martin, a software engineer from State College, referring to the tropical storm that still posed a threat to Tampa as the week ended.

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Peter Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at pjackson(at)ap.org.

The Associated Press